Home > Political Animal > 5th Tuesdays
By Jim Sack
Fort Wayne Reader
Council President Tom Smith is trying to birth a new tradition and to elevate the status of council at the same time.
As he says, he likes a challenge.
The idea is simple: once quarterly the Julian calendar offers a fifth Tuesday in a given month. This quarter it happened to fall on the 31st of January. Typically, that would be a night off for the boys, a chance to repair something at home, go to another of the interminable meetings or watch the History Channel with a Malbec. For some reason, and there really is none, that quarterly oddity has been an excuse to take time away from city business.
Instead, Smith wants to put that fifth Tuesday per quarter back in play as Fifth Tuesday, an event, an occasion, something on a higher level, so popular that the whole family will gather around the TV with popcorn and sodas. His idea is to dispense with the regular and mundane business of approving contracts and reviewing budgets to more philosophical and studied events. He wants to raise the bar a bit, to hold a discussion of a significant matter weighing on the public mind, to hold hearings, to discuss economic development with whoever is running the Alliance, or to meet with representatives of County Council for collaborate discussions. In doing so he hopes to raise the status of council.
It makes sense. The value of Fifth Tuesday was evident on the 31st when City Controller Pat Roller, Redevelopment Director Greg Leatherman, the RDC attorney Larry Shine and the architect who oversaw much of the inspection and renovation of the new city hall, Cory Miller, answered questions concerning the sudden and very expensive deterioration of the building’s six elevators.
Instead of being pressed for time with a couple dozen other items on the agenda and council members impatiently checking their watches, Smith was able to conduct a single topic hearing that eventually answered many of the questions surrounding the mess. What had been the subject of innuendo and rumor was brought, as much as possible, into the light. It was a good start.
So, now the question is begged – what next? How will President Smith format the next Fifth Tuesday? How will he differentiate his Fifth Tuesday from the run-of-the- mill discussions of asphalt and zoning changes? What topics will he choose and how will he prepare council so that the evenings are worth tuning in to City TV?
Here are a few suggestions – the use of the Legacy Funds; focusing the goals of the dozen or more organizations that have roles in economic development; the school districts request for $150 million to repair buildings; how to make this a more livable city; why the city/city utilities now needs a huge water rate increase when last fall it swore it would not? Each question answered helps each participant – council, the administration, the quasi-governmental groups and the public – to clarify and understand. It is good government.
If Mr. Smith is determined to make this Fifth Tuesday a valuable tradition he might consider a problem that weekly confronts council vis a vis the administration – research. The administration has well over 1,000 staff members churning out proposals, information and substantiation to help sell projects to council and secure funding. Council has one staff member, a part-time attorney, two sheep and a dog. The administration regularly prepares long-winded power point presentations that present frame debate. Council is reactive. They have their memory which sometimes can be a bit fuzzy. Council is also split along party lines. Council members are also part-time. Most have day jobs and struggle to find the extra time to produce an in-depth study.
If the Fifth Tuesday is to become a valuable tradition, rather than just one more of the slog of meetings, council and Smith will have to find a way to create their own frame to the debate, and that means either a volunteer cadre, more staff or assigning leadership on topics not unlike the Quest Club model.
Otherwise, council remains at a disadvantage with the administration.
Mr. Smith says he loves a challenge. Over the years he has been as rich a source of new ideas for the community as any councilman. So, now, in his position as president of council, he has tossed out an idea that has been accepted by both his fellow council members and by the administration. Now, he has to make it special. Employing the Fifth Tuesday for higher level and more informative debates is quite a challenge, indeed. If it succeeds it will benefit us all.